Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Family Skiing in.. New York

Riding the Triple at Labrador. 
We are on a weekend getaway to visit our oldest son Alec at Ithaca College in New York. We brought our skis but it rained pretty hard on the drive over from Maine, so our hopes for decent skiing were not high. Fortunately, we drove far enough west into the backside of the storm which was colder, and the local ski areas picked up a few inches of snow through the overnight. We ended up have a very pleasant ski afternoon at Labrador Mountain.

Alec is a member of the Ithaca College club alpine race team, and Labrador was his home mountain. He visited many other mountains in the area for races including Toggenburg, Greek Peak and Bristol Mountain.

Alec finding some fresh snow at Labrador

Most of the ski areas in central upstate New York are 'medium sized'. They offer around 1000 feet of vertical and most offer night skiing. While smaller in size, many (like Greek Peak and Bristol) offer high speed quad lifts. For our Maine readers, Labrador was like a "Mini Mt. Abram". Not quite as big but a similar feel with fixed griped chairs and old school feel. It is usually quite cold in this neck of the woods so snowmaking is key and they offer snowmaking coverage on most of the trails. Labrador has a roomy base lodge that was filled with kids participating in after school programs... some better behaved than others as usual!

Isaac finding some powder - literally our first real powder turns of the year.
It was a very fun afternoon and we were quite pleased to find some fresh snow. March is usually the best month of the year to ski. Lets hope mother nature blesses us with a storm or two back in Maine!

Here is a ski edit of our day.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February 2016 Vacation Week - Racing and a bit of everything at Wildcat

What a whirlwind school vacation week! Our youngest son Isaac participated in the Maine Class A Alpine ski championships at Mt. Abram. The event was delayed a day by another day of miserable rain, followed by colder conditions which created an extremely icy course for both the Giant Slalom and Slalom events. Isaac did very well overall, as he placed in the upper half of the field in GS and upper third of the field in Slalom and stayed up on his feet all four runs. Being our senior, this was our last high school event. It has been a great 9 years of watching our kids participate in the Freeport Middle and High School Teams!

Isaac racing in his last state High School meet
Our oldest son Alec is off at Ithaca college and he joined the IC Alpine Club race team. He has been all over upstate New York participating in USCSA races. He just completed regionals and had a fine year and had a lot of fun. He feels like he improved his race skills quite a bit.

Alec racing Slalom in -15 temperatures!
What we really live for is our free skis and lots of natural snow. Sadly this year has been lacking in the snow department. Our favorite mountain Saddleback is still closed and it has just been a bummer snow year so far. We decided to close out our school vacation week at Wildcat in New Hampshire.
Wildcat from the Parking Lot
They have a nice Sunday afternoon $30 lift ticket and they reported a bit of fresh snow over the weekend. It was quite literally three different mountains.

Top 1/4 - Nice soft powder turns and we skied our first natural snow trails of the year. Some of the best ski turns of the year.
Middle 1/2 - ROCK SOLID ICE. Firmest conditions I have ever skied. It must of rained and froze mid-mountain. Some of the worst skiing of the year.
Bottom 1/4 - The very bottom loosened up for some spring like conditions.

Very weird day. We wanted to keep going up to the top to ski the fluff but the middle was so awful it didn't make it worth it. Just a continuation of this weird winter we are having.

Regardless, a day skiing is better than staring at the mud in the yard. We are enjoying getting up late on weekends this year and doing half days at the hill.

Here is a video edit of our day.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Afternoon Ski Day = Fun Day at Mt. Abram

A recent article by Maine skier and writer Josh Christie reminded us that a afternoon of skiing can be a lot of fun. We tried it today with a Sunday afternoon day at Mt. Abram and yes, it was a lot of fun!

While waiting for winter to arrive Mt. Abram is putting out a very good product. One of my favorite
Isaac getting some air at Mt. Abram
trails in Maine, Fearless Leader, is open and skiing great. As we drove up to Mt. Abram late in the morning it was humorous to see all the cars with out of state plates and skis on the top make their way down Rt. 26 on their way home from Sunday River.

The snow was soft and craveable and after 2pm we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It was refreshing not having to get up at the crack of dawn to ski. The price was right ($35 afternoon ticket) and we had a blast! One of our best days of the year.

Rumour has it old man winter might make a return to Maine in a week or so. Maybe, just maybe. And maybe Saddleback will... ummm... nevermind.

Go Snow!

Always fun skiing with my wife and son!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Black Mountain of Maine - Opening December 30th!

Black Mountain of Maine is one of our favorite 'mid-major' ski mountains. A modern triple chairlift services over 1,200 feet of vertical, some great blue cruisers and with the help of the volunteer Angry Beavers of Black Mountain they have made Black a gladed terrain destination.

This is by far the best deal in Maine. $15 Fridays and $29 weekend / holidays. With snow in the forecast for Tuesday this should be a great opening day!

Along with the alpine skiing, they have a world-class nordic facility, a very comfortable base lodge with a pub, a tubing hill and night-skiing.

In support of the mountain, we created a 30 second promo video using some of our past footage. Please watch below and share with your friends.

We highly encourage you to check out Black Mountain in Rumford this year! Well worth the trip!

And you can check out the latest trail and glade maps below:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

COMMENTARY - Thoughts on Saddleback Passholder Options

Saddleback made an announcement on Friday December 18th giving hope a sale will be completed
Hopeful this will happen again this winter!
soon and a late January opening is possible. This is good news, but the reality is that the sale is not final, and there is a lot of work to do complete the sale and get the mountain open. Recognizing this, the current and prospective owner they have given current passholders 3 options for this winter.

100% RefundAt any time from now until opening day, if you wish to not wait any longer you may request your season pass refund

This is the biggest news of the announcement. For folks that want to (or have already made plans) to ski elsewhere this winter, they now have an out card and can get their money back. Both Sugarloaf/Sunday River and Shawnee Peak have special season pass rates for folks that have purchased Saddleback season passes. In Shawnee's case, they are marketing a Season Pass to last year's passholders too.

I want to commend the Berry's for offering this refund option prior to the sale going through.

For those looking to hang in there with their Saddleback pass there are two options:

Keep pass and receive 50% bonus - By waiting for opening day, you will receive an additional 50% resort credit bonus added to your season pass that can be used anywhere in the resort:  food, tickets, lessons, rentals, seasonal locker rentals, future season or day passes etc. This may be used this year or next.

Convert Pass to Gift Card + 50% Bonus - The amount of your pass purchase will be placed on a gift card and by waiting for opening day you will receive an additional 50% resort credit bonus that can be used anywhere in the resort:  food, tickets, lessons, rentals, seasonal locker rentals,  future season or day passes etc. This may be used this year or next.

Both options have positive's and negatives and you have to assess your own situation to see what works for you. It is important to note if you convert your pass to a gift card you are giving up the pre-season rates. That is if you buy a pass later this season it will be at the published price.

@MaineSkiFamily's advice?

If you need your money back go ahead and get it now. Just keep an eye on Saddleback and if it opens, make a day trip or two (or more) this year and make plans for 2016-2017 season pass back at Saddleback.

For those looking to hang in there, wait a bit and see if the sale goes through. Three things could happen.

  • Absolute worst case and unlikely scenario, the sale collapses and Saddleback does not open, you get your money back. 
  • Saddleback sale happens and a January opening date is announced; the Keep pass and receive 50% bonus will probably be the best option. I see lots of opening day PBR's flowing at the Swig-n-Smelt with this option. :-)
  • Saddleback sale happens but opening is delayed into February; then the Convert Pass to Gift Card + 50% Bonus becomes more of an consideration. You basically have to decide how much you are going to ski Saddleback this season and see if the math / money works for you.
Once the official word of the sale and opening date are announced, you can do what is best for your situation.

So despite this horrendously warm weather, we still have a need to ski between now and when Saddleback hopefully opens. For those hanging in there with their Saddleback season pass, you may not want to spend a pile of money on lift tickets. Here are options you can consider:

Buy a Shawnee Peak Season Pass at $150. This is a very nice mountain and at this price, you only have to ski there three times to have the pass pay for itself. As of this writing (December 20) they are open for the season.

Ski Black Mountain of Maine - $15 Friday / $29 Saturday. This place reminds me a lot of Saddleback. Great family vibe, fun trails with +1,300 ft vertical drop, good learning area, outstanding nordic trails, very nice base lodge, reasonable ticket prices and some outstanding gladed terrain. You can ski here affordably and get an outstanding community mountain experience. If you think you might ski here 10 times or so a season pass may make sense too. As of this writing they are hoping to open December 26.

Our other favorite mid-sized mountain is Mt. Abram. I don't believe they are offering any deals to Saddleback passholders, but when the snow is on, the terrain at Mt. Abram is really good. Definitely worth a day-trip or two regardless of your pass status. As of this writing (December 20) they are open.

There are lots of great ski areas in Maine. Check them out!

So this Saddleback situation is still quite challenging. When this is all settled, it will make an interesting business school case study. While we understand the frustration of many, @MaineSkiFamily chooses not to look backward but look ahead. We will play the hand that we are dealt and trust it will all work out for Saddleback somehow. For now, we just need some snow!!! 

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the blog comment section or on our Facebook page

Monday, December 14, 2015

Snow at Mt. Abram December 13, 2015

We celebrated the 1 year anniversary of one of our best ski days ever at Saddleback, where we skied 55 trails on opening day with blower powder, by going to Mt. Abram and skiing one trail of man made snow! Regardless of the challenging weather, Mt. Abram was still able to put our a skiable product and we had fun.

Look! Snow at Mt. Abram!
The main run they had open was Boris Badenov straight down the fall line of the mountain. The
coverage in the middle of the trail was good. As you got lower down the mountain, the snow coverage was narrower, but still adequate.

The snow was a loose granular with some icy spots, but there was always piles of snow to turn in so the skiing was remarkably good considering the weather we have had. We arrived around noontime and it was pretty quiet but there were a few skiers making some early-season turns. This weather is a killer for skier traffic. Even with snow, the general population just is not in the mood to ski yet. You just got to power through the bad weather and go support local hills like Mt. Abram making it happen!

Mt. Abram has been making a lot of green improvements recently. They have an impressive array of solar panels below the base lodge, and they have recently installed an 'airless' snowmaking system that they anticipate will save $35,000 in snowmaking costs this winter. Here is a link to a recent news article on the snowmaking system.

Winter is coming! While we wait we can still ski. Thanks Mt. Abram!

Thanks to Mt. Abram for the snow!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

COMMENTARY - My Thoughts on Saddleback

It has been an excruciating 4 months as we all await news of Saddleback's status for the 2015-16 season. Followers of this blog know that our family absolutely loves the mountain. One of the biggest reasons we love it is because we just feel at home there. The staff, the skiers and the mountain just fits our style and it is hard for us to imagine making any other mountain our home mountain.

Saddleback is not for everyone, but what makes Saddleback unique for the @MaineSkiFamily crew?

Snow - The snow is just better there. We always seem to have consistent snow surfaces to ski on.
Maybe it is because they don't dust and run and instead bury their snowmaking trails. Maybe there is less skier traffic (good for skiers that are on mountain - but bad for business sounds like). Whatever the reason the snow is just really, really good.

Gladed Terrain - When our family discovered the trees at Saddleback, a whole new mountain opened up for us. The tree skiing is just awesome. Skiing down the big canopy of pine trees on Intimidator and Dark Wizard is truly special. Casablanca is a gladed playground that you could spend all day in. Upper Nightmare is just the right spacing of trees and open areas. The glade cutters of Saddleback have done an outstanding job to make tree spacing... just right. If you don't ski the glades of Saddleback you are really missing out.

Convenience - No shuttle buses to get on. Drop your skis off at the lodge and close by parking. A comfortable (albeit crowded on weekends) lodge with an awesome fireplace. A smiling, friendly staff. Great homemade cookies and coffee at the snack bar. A fun pub upstairs with great food, drinks and a stellar view.

Awesome Learning Area - The area below the base lodge has a variety of green trails and its own lift for beginners to get started on. The lollipop races on Sunday for the little ones is always a blast for the kids.

Golden Smelt, Warden's Worry, Peachy's Peril, Black Beauty, Parmacheenee Bell, Jane Craig, Professor, Governor - Old school ski trails - Need I say more?

Not Pretentious - We can usually pick out the people skiing 'from away'. Their skis and clothes are just a bit newer and more stylish than most. They are usually bombing down the middle of the trail at 100 miles an hour and they might comment that there are too many ungroomed trails.

True Saddleback skiers might have a rip or two in their clothing. Duck tape would not be out of the question to cover a hole or hold something together. Many are dipping knees on their teles. Usually they are skiing the sides of the trails or hopping into the woods to find some untouched powder stashes. And frozen ice beards are worn with pride.

I could go on and on about why we love Saddleback but I think you get the drift. But what now as we await news on Saddleback's fate. I admit I have gone through a range of emotions. I have been angry at times with the ownership and management, sad that we might lose our mountain, and hopeful that something is going to work out for the best for all parties involved. As I swing through these emotions I do keep coming back to these main thoughts.

My problem is not that big - Compared for folks that are living in the area, rely on the tourism for their livelihood, own property in the area or work at the mountain they are the ones most impacted. I think the majority of the Saddleback ski population fits into the 'hope for the best' column. I am just looking for a place to ski and I do hope it will be Saddleback.

Pre-season pass holders are a bit stuck - Those that bought early are a bit stuck and I don't blame them for being angry. I just skied Sugarloaf this past weekend thinking it would sure of been nice to know if I need a season pass at the Loaf instead of buying $150 worth of lift tickets. The situation is worse for those with on-mountain property and seasonal rentals. But at this point I can only trust the ownership that there are valid reasons for not refunding pass holders yet, and they will make things right in the end.

Chris Farmer (GM of Saddleback) is doing everything he can - My read is that he is trying to help facilitate a sale while under direct orders not to say anything. That has to be an impossibly tough situation. While official communication from the mountain has been inconsistent due to a variety of factors, I am quite certain the midnight oil is burning in Chris' office.

I don't want to own a ski area! - We owe a big THANK YOU to the Berry's and all the investments they have made in the mountain. I really don't blame them if they want to get out. I think they have lost a lot of their family money in this venture. I certainly wish the exit could be smoother, but it is not my money at risk. While I have my opinions on how to make Saddleback work better financially, I would not want to be in the driver's seat risking my own capital. Loads of risk!

I am hopeful for the future - Even if the lifts don't spin this winter, I do think there is hope for the future. Saddleback has WAY too much going for it to sit dormant for long.

I could be wrong about all of this and I am sure there are different opinions out there. However, this is what keeps me going. As I have said many times before, I do hope something works out for the best for everyone involved, and we will hang on to the bitter end to see how this plays out.

Fingers crossed!!!


The @MaineSkiFamily Old Man.

What do you think? Post in the comments below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.